Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Davis, 28 January 1802

From John Davis

Baltimore, Jany 28, 1802.


I receive your polite Letter, dated Monticello, at the moment I am about to usher into the World a pamphlet of my production, which I beg permission to present you with. I shall be pardoned, I hope, for having taken a slice from a corner of the Massachusetts’ Cheese, when I observe that it has filled my purse, & enabled me to prosecute my studies more uninterruptedly.—Such productions are apparently trifling, but I think it is recorded of some British Statesman that he thought the ballads of a Country might propagate just or false nations.

I am, Sir, With profound respect, Your most obedient Servant,

John Davis

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 29 Jan. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure not found, but see below.

Your Polite Letter: TJ to Davis, 11 Sep. 1801.

Pamphlet: Davis wrote “The Memoirs of the Mammoth Cheese” in late December 1801 or early January 1802 and offered it for publication to the Baltimore booksellers George Keatinge and Henry Semple Keatinge. The Keatinges purchased the copyright for five dollars on 7 Jan. and a week later began to advertise the item for sale “in the press and speedily will be published.” They later claimed that Davis had submitted a variant of the manuscript, entitled “The Adventures of the Mammoth Cheese,” to another printer who advertised it for sale from the offices of the Baltimore American and William Pechin on 28 Jan. In a public printed apology, Davis insisted that publishing two histories on the same subject was not unprecedented, that the works’ contents were not repetitive, and that Massachusetts inhabitants were eager for publications about their Cheshire cheese (Baltimore Republican or, Anti-Democrat, 14, 29 Jan. 1802; Roger P. Bristol, Maryland Imprints, 1801–1810 [Charlottesville, 1953], 19–20).

Ballads Of A Country: an allusion to a remark made by the early eighteenth-century Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, “if a man were permitted to make all the Ballads, he need not care who should make the Laws of a Nation” (Andrew Fletcher, An Account of a Conversation concerning a right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind. In a Letter to the Marquis of Montrose, the Earls of Rothes, Roxburg, and Hadington, from London the 1st of December, 1703 [Edinburgh, 1704], 10).

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